The Listening Post

The day Saddam Hussein’s statue fell: Iraq and the media

Was the overplayed television moment truly a turning point in the Iraq invasion or was it myth-making by the media?

On April 9, 2003, less than a month after the US invasion of Iraq had begun, television screens around the world broadcast an event taking place in Firdos Square, at the centre of Baghdad.

The footage showed a statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down amidst a crowd of cheering Iraqis and triumphant American soldiers.

For me, it was just an event that was preceded by a lot of blood and death and violence and killing in combat. And that is the disconnect that frustrates me so much. A symbolic media clip versus the reality ...

by Tim McLaughlin, former US soldier and commander of the first US tank to reach Firdos Square

The pictures fit neatly alongside the spin from the Bush White House – it symbolised the end of a war that in fact had only just begun.

Since then, analysts have theorised that the event was a classic example of military manipulation of the media, but the reality is much more complex.

“Twenty-four hour news is a giant echo chamber, and when you introduce something that is a partial truth or a myth, it bounces around this echo chamber and creates a universal truth that people accept. The statue of Saddam Hussein comes tumbling down, you replay it thousands of times within a few hours, and that is the image that you get,” said Rageh Omaar, ITV News correspondent.

In 2013, 10 years after that made-for-TV moment grabbed headlines around the world, we went back to analyse the event, the media coverage of it and the symbolism of the pictures.

Was it truly a turning point in the invasion or myth-making by the media? Some say the footage was overplayed but was it over-interpreted too?

The Listening Post’s Nicholas Muirhead looks at the fall of Saddam Hussein’s statue: Why did the story play out the way it did?